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Pettersson Just Makes Good Plays; Part of Penguins’ Future?



Marcus Pettersson Tristan Jarry Eeli Tolvanen

Marcus Pettersson wasn’t the Pittsburgh Penguins’ highest-scoring defenseman during the 2023-24 season.

He didn’t log the most ice time among their defensemen, either.

And he didn’t cash the biggest paychecks.

He simply was the most reliable, responsible, consistent presence on their blue line over 82 games.

Pettersson shuttled between working with Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson for part of the season before settling in alongside Karlsson, but while his defensive partner changed at times, his game never did.

“I think it was (a big step forward),” Pettersson said. “I took on a little bit bigger role, and I think I handled it well. … I think I took good steps this year to really become the player I want to be.”

And, more importantly, toward becoming the player the Penguins will need for him to be if they hope to end their two-year absence from the Stanley Cup playoffs next spring.

While Pettersson’s offensive numbers — four goals and 26 assists — were rather ordinary, a lot of the others he put up were quite striking.

He finished with a team-leading 159 blocked shots and placed third with 121 hits. And as flawed of a statistic as plus-minus ratings might be, it’s hard to ignore that Pettersson had a team-best plus-28, while Drew O’Connor, who placed second, was plus-14.

Pettersson averaged 22 minutes, 40 seconds of ice time per game, putting him third behind Letang (24:41) and Karlsson (24:16). However, his total included two minutes, 40 seconds of penalty-killing time per game, most on the team.

Despite being on the ice for a team-leading 55 percent of the time the Penguins were shorthanded, Pettersson was out there for just 6.04 power play goals-against in every 60 minutes of penalty-killing work. That was the second-lowest figure among the nine defensemen who played for the Penguins during the just-concluded season. (Chad Ruhwedel’s 4.43 was the lowest.)

“I’ve still got a long way to go,” Pettersson said. “But I’m happy with my season. … It’s always tough to take positives if the team’s not doing well, but I’ll try to do that, and keep rolling.”

Although no one is going to mistake Pettersson for one of the league’s feared heavyweights (hey, the guy is 6-foot-3, but only weighs 177 pounds), he has gained attention — and respect — for his willingness to trade punches with some of the NHL’s most accomplished fighters, including Nicolas Deslauriers of Philadelphia and Washington’s Tom Wilson.

He doesn’t generally win those confrontations, but does show up for them, and that doesn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.

Pettersson will be entering the final year of a contract that carries a salary-cap hit of $4.025,175; if he doesn’t get a new deal by next summer, he will be an unrestricted free agent.

Kyle Dubas, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ president of hockey operations and general manager, is not given to publicly discussing his personnel plans, but it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be interested in retaining Pettersson, who turns 28 May 8.

Whether Pettersson would have any interest in exploring the free-agent market in 2025 isn’t known, but if he has another season like the one he just completed, it’s reasonable to assume that other clubs will notice.

There’s a season to be played between now and then, however, and Pettersson’s focus will be on helping the Penguins return to the playoffs. That figures to entail everything from doing a better job of protecting leads to getting more points out of games that go to overtime or a shootout.

Those were two of the most conspicuous reasons the Pittsburgh Penguins are sitting out the postseason again.

“You can point to a lot of stuff,” Pettersson said.

True enough. But his play was not one of them.